Ex-Washington State Penitentiary inmate sues over assault

Oscar Iverson, who was severely injured by another inmate, claims penitentiary officials were negligent and failed to protect him.

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WALLA WALLA -- A former Washington State Penitentiary inmate who reportedly suffered life-threatening injuries when a fellow prisoner attacked him in 2008 has filed a civil lawsuit in Walla Walla County Superior Court.

Oscar Iverson is asking for an unspecified amount of money from the state, penitentiary Superintendent Stephen Sinclair and five other prison employees.

The complaint, which was filed Monday, says Iverson now lives in Spokane County. He's being represented by Spokane attorney Jeffry K. Finer.

Iverson claims prison officials were negligent and violated his federal rights by not protecting him from harm.

Iverson was brutally stabbed several times about 7:45 p.m. April 30, 2008, by inmate Nicholas A. Swecker, who was armed with a five-inch glass shank, according to Iverson's suit. The attack reportedly took place in a gym at the prison's West Complex.

Iverson claims he suffered stab wounds to his left kidney area, left upper lung area, left elbow and left shoulder. He underwent surgery at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, where he was hospitalized for two days.

Swecker, whose earliest possible release date was 2040, pleaded guilty the following year to third-degree assault for attacking Iverson. Another five years then were tacked onto Swecker's prison term.

Iverson's lawsuit claims prison officials were negligent because at the time he was assaulted, he and other medium-security inmates had to share space and recreation time with close-custody inmates, such as Swecker, while facilities were under construction.

Iverson also contends officers had information about 15 minutes before the attack that inmates were heard talking about an imminent fight. And days before the assault, a different medium-custody inmate was assaulted by a close-custody inmate at or near the same location, according to Iverson.

Therefore, the institution had been put on notice "that the mixing of the two populations would increase the risk of assault, in particular within the Recreation complex," his lawsuit says.

In addition, Iverson claims officials were tardy in lowering his custody classification to minimum security, which if done in a timely manner would have placed him in another area of the prison before the date he was assaulted.

He's seeking compensation for emotional harm -- including depression, debilitating fear and severe post-traumatic stress disorder -- and severe physical pain.

Prison spokeswoman Shari Hall wrote in an email response to the Union-Bulletin that officials haven't seen Iverson's lawsuit yet and aren't able to comment on any active litigation.

Union-Bulletin reporter Andy Porter contributed to this story. Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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